Mathieu van der Poel will resume racing on Sunday, September 12 at the Antwerp Port Epic. The cobbled and unpaved roads around the city and harbour of Antwerp serve as a last test of form for the Dutchman ahead of the World Championships and Paris-Roubaix.
Van der Poel has suffered from fluid between his intervertebral discs, without proper treatment the injury can evolve towards a herniated disc. The Alpecin-Fenix rider has experienced back pain since making the switch from road racing to mountain biking earlier this season. Van der Poel’s crash in the Olympic Games cross country event intensified the pain and forced him away from racing since the Games. He was scheduled to race both the mountain bike world championships and the Benelux Tour, a race he won in 2020.
“Sunday will be a crucial test,” Alpecin-Fenix sports director and team owner Christoph Roodhooft explains in Het Nieuwsblad. “Will his back hold and how is his overall shape after two months without any competition? It’s all very unsure.”
According to Roodhooft, Van der Poel managed to train for four hours straight leading up to the Antwerp Port Epic, which is hopeful. “There is progress. There were times when he was suffering from constant pain in the lower back all through the day. That is over now. The physio therapist treats him intensively and he can train on the bike again.”
There were several Worlds preparation options for the Dutchman who is eager to ride the World Championships in Belgium and also wants to be at the start line of Paris-Roubaix on October 3.
“We had several options,” Roodhooft continues. “He could go back on altitude or continue with just training but that was something Mathieu didn’t want. A race is always different than training and the last time he raced on the road was the Tour de France. How will the back react after such an effort is something we want to learn on Sunday.”
If the race in Antwerp is a success Van der Poel will be at the World Championships two weeks later. The team is also considering skipping the World Championships and focus solely on Paris-Roubaix.
“Mathieu is someone who finds form quickly but he hasn’t been able to train normally for two months. The World Championships are a different level but he has told us he will do anything to ride there,” Roodhooft concludes.